Dee Stewart

A literary journalist and publicist since 2003, Dee Stewart's writings have appeared in Precious Times, Romantic Times, Spirit Led Woman Magazines and on The Master's Artist Blog. She is also the owner of DeeGospel PR (,) Christian entertainment PR boutique located in Atlanta, GA. Visit her Christian Fiction Blog, which turned 6 years old in July at Her debut novel "A Good Excuse to Be Bad (Kensington/Dafina) releases Summer 2011. Talk to her in real-time on Twitter at @deegospel.

Thrilling the Romantic Soul

Sibella GiorelloChristian fiction suspense has grown in popularity in past decade. In fact, Christian thriller writers like Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, and James Scott Bell have crossed over onto mainstream bookstore shelves. Women suspense writers like Dee Henderson, Brandilyn Collins, and Terri Blackstock have introduced more women readers to this genre. In honor of Women’s History month, CFOM chats with critically acclaimed author Sibella Giorello about why suspense romances the Christian reader, and her latest novel, The Mountains Bow Down, part four in the award-winning mystery series of Raleigh Harmon, forensic geologist and FBI Special Agent.

How have you kept Raleigh’s story fresh?

If readers find Raleigh fresh, it’s because she still surprises the author. Finishing the fifth book in the series, I still step away from the computer wondering, “Wow, Raleigh, that’s how you’re going to handle the situation?”

What is it about her that readers love?

Maybe it comes down to Raleigh being an authentic Christian—even for nonbelievers, and a large percentage of my readers are nonbelievers. Raleigh is nowhere close to perfect. In fact, she messes up royally. But she’s aware of her wretchedness. More important, she knows God is good, ready to redeem her mistakes for His glory.

Readers seem to take a certain hopefulness from her. Maybe she holds up a mirror: We’re bad; He’s good.

Why do you like writing suspense?

I write what I like to read. And what appeals to me about mysteries and suspense is how we read on different levels. We have the literary story—characters, language, setting, etc.—but also the puzzle that needs to be solved. As readers, it’s almost participatory, actively moving with the characters toward the conclusion.

There’s another element as a writer. I was one of those annoying kids who grew up saying, “Well, that doesn’t seem fair.” Raleigh lets me satisfy that innate need to see good triumph over evil, especially in a fallen world.

How did you decide on the titles for this series?

The first title, The Stones Cry Out, came naturally. Raleigh Harmon is a forensic geologist and a believer. So that Scripture (Luke 19:40) seemed like an ideal reference point.

But the rhythm of those words appealed to me, and the second title, The Rivers Run Dry, slipped into my mind during a Seattle drought. The third title took some work. It appeared late, while reading about a medieval monk who believed our human condition was characterized by God being out of sight—we “saw” God only for split seconds, “when the clouds rolled away.”

This most recent title, The Mountains Bow Down, was inspired by Habakkuk, and of course Alaska. But next year’s release was named by my youngest son. He came up with The Stars Shine Bright So naming the books is now a family affair.

Is there a main story mythology that travels across the series?

Interesting question, Dee. Raleigh has started reminding me of Ruth sticking to Naomi when the world said she was free to pursue her own needs. Although I didn’t have that image when I started writing the series, some subconscious aspect must have crept forward. Raleigh and Ruth. Naomi and Nadine. How did I choose characters with the same first initials, who have such a similar relationship? It was God speaking through me.

Why Alaska?

Alaska is a great challenge for writers. The landscape is spectacular and the people are a different breed. Some writers have nailed it—Robert Service and Jack London being perhaps the best examples—but others have written about the place as clinically as Darwin described birds in the Galapagos.

As a fourth generation Alaskan, I wanted to write about some things that make the state special. It’s very close to my heart. But when I finished the book, I still had plenty more to write about. That tells me Raleigh might return at some point.

Why Jack?

Jack’s not the one-dimensional dude he presents. Like Raleigh, he wears a public mask that hides personal pain. With her, he recognizes those secret parts of himself. He’s attracted to Raleigh not to save her—which is the romantic cliché—but to save himself. That’s an interesting dynamic.

And he’s funny. Very funny.

What have you learned about writing suspense you wished you knew sooner?

The Mountains Bow DownLooking back, I turned in my first book before it was ready. At the time, as a novice, I didn’t understand the difference between being sick of a manuscript and finishing a book. Now I know: When I’m sick of reading a manuscript, God is just getting started.

By God’s grace alone, that book went on to win a Christy Award. The honor was tremendous, no doubt about it. But each time I thought of the book, I felt profound shame because it wasn’t written with my whole heart, “as unto the Lord.” Fortunately I got the rights back. It was tempting to upload the book to Kindle as-is. The sneaky sin-thought was: “Hey, it won a Christy, it must be okay . . . .” Instead, I worked over the chapters, hoping to be that “workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

My advice to unpublished authors is don’t jump the gun. Make sure your book is the absolute best it can be. You won’t regret it.

How do you make plot not seem coincidental but organic?

In real life, most of us have a BS radar, which stands for Baloney Supreme. We can sense when something is cheap or false. As writers, it’s important we listen to that when we tell our stories.

Writers are human—very human. We get tired. Sick of the story. Doubt ourselves. And there’s always the temptation to force a plot point, or to tie a neat bow around the ending, or to skip some hard work.

There are some constructive ways to avoid that temptation, and they don’t involve diving face-first into the Ben & Jerry’s (although sometimes that works).

For instance, if you’ve painted yourself into a literary corner, tiptoe over to the character and ask, “What would you do next?” Then listen. Even better, as agent Donald Maass advises, ask the character, “What would you never do?” Then let them do it.

Maybe that change-up will work in the story, maybe not. But it will certainly pull your narrative out of the corner.

By the way, I highly recommend Maass’s workbook, Writing the Breakout Novel.

What’s the spiritual takeaway of The Mountains Bow Down?

Well, here I’m reluctant to speak. One of the reasons I got my college degree in geology was to avoid English professors telling me what the great novels were “really about.”

That same caution has carried over as an author and a Christian. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and I think we need to let novels speak to each of us personally. Jesus rarely told his listeners what to take away from His parables. And since I follow Him, I’ll do the same.

To learn more about Sibello Giorello, visit

Spring Book PR Tip: Now’s the time to plan hosting a spring writer’s workshop. Make it free and through your local library or book store. It’s great PR.